'I was fearful for my baby's life': Three nurses tell us about being a mother and frontline worker

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"It was scary, but at the end of the day, a job is a job. I had to work." (Getty Images)
"It was scary, but at the end of the day, a job is a job. I had to work." (Getty Images)

At the peak of the global Coronavirus pandemic, healthcare workers found themselves having to put their lives on the line to provide aid and care to the growing number of Covid-19 patients. 

Many of these frontline workers, however, are mothers of young children and have been painfully traumatised by their experiences and crippled by their fears of infecting their children and loved ones. 

This is one article in a series on the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on ordinary South African families. Find the full series here: Behind the Mask

News24 spoke to three local essential service workers and mothers, to hear about their experiences at the forefront during the earlier days of the pandemic.

Also see: 'I was convinced my baby had died': Covid-19 survivor meets her preemie 3 weeks after giving birth

'A lot of unanswered questions'

A registered nurse at a Gauteng clinic, Victoria Dlomo*, was heavily pregnant mid-pandemic and fearful for the life of her then-unborn son.

"My initial reaction to hearing about the Covid-19 pandemic was very blurry," says Dlomo. "I was pregnant at the time so I was not okay. I was fearful for my baby's life, I was fearful for my life, but I still had to go to work."

The mother of a now one-year-old boy admits that she was "uneasy due to the fact that there were a lot of unanswered questions". 

"We didn't know how to treat our patients, we didn't know when and where to treat our patients," she says. "I was terrified, to be very honest, because it was a game of life and death."

"Just having to watch the mortality rate increase rapidly is something that I think traumatised most health workers, because we can't say we're used to death, but I can safely say we've built a resistance against taking home pain from death."

'I took an oath'

Patience Khoza* told News24 that she was almost convinced that the virus would "come and pass".

"At first, I was in denial," says Khoza. 

The nurse says that the reality of the virus only began to set in when she was appointed as a Covid-19 professional nurse during the peak of the Coronavirus infections. 

It became part of her job description to test patients, go into households where people had tested positive for Covid-19, and even go and nurse patients who had tested positive, but could not isolate at home. 

"It was scary, but at the end of the day, a job is a job. I had to work," explains Khoza. "Facing people who had symptoms, facing people who were scared, who didn't know what will happen - whether they'll survive or die - and people looking to you, expecting you to be more knowledgeable than them."

As a frontline worker, Khoza was no stranger to having to put on a brave face so as not to scare her patients. 

All the while, the mother of a four-year-old boy was worried about protecting her child from the virus she had watched so violently claim the lives of others.

To protect her son and the rest of the family, Khoza did not go home from March to September 2020 in fear of contracting the virus and fatally passing it to her loved ones. 

"I'd rather stay here and speak to my family on the phone and through video calls - going back to them was not an option," she says.

"It was tough, but I had to soldier on," continues Khoza. "I am a nurse, I took an oath, this is my country, this is my community and they are expecting this of me, so I have to put my fears aside."

'Things will eventually be okay'

Zanele Khambule who is a paediatric nurse and mother of three says she was terrified of the Coronavirus disease and questioned her and her kids' survival.

"Some days were good, some days were just scary due to the high mortality rate," says Khambule.

Khambule says the hospitals and clinics were short-staffed, leaving frontline workers "too exposed" and having to go home wondering about to infecting her family.

Khambule clung to the hope that if she had faith and wore her PPE correctly, "things will eventually be okay". 

"Obviously, everybody's coping mechanisms would be different, but as a healthcare worker, if you do not find a way to cope with the things we go through in hospitals, clinic and so forth - if you don't find a coping tool, you become very poisonous towards your patients and toward your staff members and colleagues," says Dlomo.

*A pseudonym has been used as these individuals have chosen to remain anonymous.

Read the full series here: Behind the Mask


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